Hero Resident Who ‘Saved Some Lives’ Among Four Victims Clinging to Life at Hospital after Bronx Apartment Fire

NY Daily News - March 07, 2020

by ELIZABETH KEOGH, MARCO POGGIO, THOMAS TRACY and LEONARD GREENE

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As ferocious flames tore into his Bronx apartment building Friday morning, Josh Pizarro scrambled up and down the stairs, banging on doors to get his neighbors out. Now the hero is fighting for his life at Jacobi Medical Center, after rescuing residents from his burning Kingsbridge home, heartbroken neighbors said.

“He’s definitely a hero for today, definitely saved some lives,” said Chip Jones, 24. “He allowed people to get out, pets to get out, elderly to get out. He even notified people up two, three floors ahead of him. It takes a whole lot of courage to do that.”

With thick, dark smoke filling the halls and billowing out a ground-floor window, a fearless Pizarro became a human fire alarm urging his neighbors to escape — all the while inhaling the acrid air that would eventually stall his steps.

"He knocked on everybody’s door yelling, 'Fire!’” said Muhammad Assi, 35, who owns a deli in the neighborhood. "Josh ran into the smoke. He inhaled too much smoke. He was black when he came out.”

Roommate Angel Flores said he didn’t see Pizarro, 30, during those chaotic moments, and only heard him screaming at neighbors to get to safety.

“I was asleep and then I heard a voice, ‘Everybody get out!’” Flores, 47, said. “When I went to the hallway. I saw the smoke coming in. When I opened the door, it was just a wall of flames.

“If it wasn’t for Joshua, I would be dead. That kid has a great heart. He’s sensitive, he’s nice, he’s polite. He always helps out. If he sees someone getting bullied, he would defend them," Flores said.

Pizarro’s older sister, Erica Pizarro, rushed to the hospital after learning of the blaze hours later from a Daily News reporter.

Her brother was still unconscious Friday afternoon, but doctors said his condition had improved from critical to stable, she said.

“Right now the hospital has him in a chamber to remove the carbon monoxide from his blood which is at dangerous levels,” Erica Pizarro, 34, told The News. “He’s not able to breath on his own.”

Despite Josh Pizarro’s valiant efforts, one member of the building was still missing: his cat. “I was looking for it, but I couldn’t find it,” Flores said.

Three other people were also taken to Jacobi Medical Center in critical condition after the 9:15 a.m. blaze on 242nd St. near Broadway — including a 48-year-old resident known as Albert Blease who residents suspect may have started the fire.

Blease was seen fighting with firefighters as they tried to rescue him from his first-floor home. Neighbors said it wasn’t the first time his pad had gone up in smoke.

“Firefighters were trying to take him out, and he was trying to force himself back in," Flores said. "He didn’t want to come out. That’s crazy man.”

A firefighter and seven other building residents were treated for injuries ranging from serious to minor. A ninth victim — another building resident — was also injured but refused medical attention.

FDNY Deputy Chief William McCormack said firefighters rescued one of the victims from a first-floor window with a portable ladder.

“There was a dog with a woman who was unconscious on the floor above (the fire)," McCormack said. “I believe that the dog I saw earlier came out on a leash. I believe the dog is fine.”

Fire Marshals were still trying to determine Friday what sparked the flames.

Erica Pizarro said she was proud of her brother’s bravery, despite his current grave condition.

“I wouldn’t expect anything else from him,” she said. “The building would be falling down around him and he’d be in there, helping people.

“He’s the kind of person who wouldn’t let anyone get hurt. He’d do everything he can to try to help someone hurting. That’s just his personality. That’s my baby brother for you," she said.